The sustainability of fishing communities


Izetta Chambers

Published on
December 16, 2009

I attended a panel presentation this week at the Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit, hosted by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. The panelists discussed the concept of sustainability, with much of the focus on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label, and how many seafood marketers feel compelled to adopt the MSC label because of the threat of lost revenues if they do not carry the trademark.

While eco-labeling is important, and nobody can honestly deny that sustainable fisheries should not be the gold standard for seafood purchases, it seems like the broader implications of sustainability are left out of the discussion.

I think that marketing executives often do not give enough credit to the savvy consumers who pay attention to such details as biodegradeability of packaging, product lifecycle, how much waste is generated during production, and the carbon footprint associated with a certain product form. Additionally, there is another aspect of sustainability - economic & social sustainability. How does your seafood purchase help to ensure that the community where that product came from will benefit enough economically from the industry to sustain itself into the future, let alone ensure that the resource will be protected into the future? 

The Retail Industry Leaders Association has an interesting take on the issue. In October, they convened an Environmental Sustainability & Compliance Conference to discuss issues such as energy, waste management, water conservation, store operations, real estate development, supply chain issues and ways to improve corporate social responsibility. The RILA has called sustainability a "business imperative."

In addition to the retail view of sustainability, there is a social aspect to sustainability that is often left out of debate by corporations.

Social and economic sustainability factors into such labels as "Fair Trade" and "Equal Exchange." These labels and trademarks educate consumers on their products' equitable treatment of those who produce them. Perhaps the next label that seafood marketers can use to distinguish their products is a "Fair Fish" standard.  While the environment and sustainability of the species is of utmost importance, especially in the wake of depletion of fish stocks around the world, a sustainability approach that doesn't take into account fair wages paid to workers and a fair price paid to fishermen, does a disservice to our coastal communities.

If people who are bringing these foods to our plate are not paid a livable wage, there is no incentive to continue harvesting this valuable protein source, and the environment that provides our fisheries with critical habitat will not be amply protected. To ensure long-term sustainability of our coastal communities, processors and marketers need to consider the social, as well as environmental aspects of sustainability.

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